Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, May 2020, The Wisdom of Butlers Past

Steven FerryThe Wisdom of Butlers Past

by Steven Ferry

PART 36: Dinner Service

The sideboard and side table were not just functional mis-en-place tools but also an opportunity to create a beautiful presentation that showed off the various tableware of the household, such as the “glasses and small waiters [8″ tray], the cruet-stand [for holding condiment containers], sugar-basin, and the cut-glass water jug, which is to go on with the dessert, and a few silver spoons.”

Two words of caution: a) If there were not enough glasses, “never attempt to make three or four persons drink out of one glass, as that is a filthy trick.” b) Place knives and forks on the side table, to avoid scratching the latter (it was permitted to scratch the side table, perhaps because it was not a major piece of furniture).

The recommended layout included having items in front that would be used first; arranging the glasses in a crescent, tallest ones at each end, together with the finger-glasses [finger bowls]; placing the candle [for lighting] at the back in the center. The author suggested adding some silverware to the center, as it offset glass nicely.

When it came to clearing the table, baskets were used to place dirty plates, and separate boxes and trays for each type of dirty cutlery, and all placed where convenient—it appears within the dining room, meaning that the sights and sounds of scraping dishes and clattering cutlery would have been evident to the guests, prompting the butlers to try to mitigate these.

No doubt the butlers were doing the best they could, given their circumstances, and fortunately we have been able to finesse table service since to create an even more aesthetic experience.

Extracted from the 1823 book, The Footman’s Directory and Butler’s Remembrancer, re-published in hardback by Pryor Publications. You may obtain your discounted copy (with free s&h) by emailing the publisher: Mr. Pryor (alan AT

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